Origin of Earth's Water: Chondritic Inheritance Plus Nebular Ingassing and Storage of Hydrogen in the Core

Jun Wu, Steven Desch, Laura Schaefer, Linda Elkins-Tanton, Kaveh Pahlevan, P R Buseck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Recent developments in planet formation theory and measurements of low D/H in deep mantle material support a solar nebula source for some of Earth's hydrogen. Here we present a new model for the origin of Earth's water that considers both chondritic water and nebular ingassing of hydrogen. The largest embryo that formed Earth likely had a magma ocean while the solar nebula persisted and could have ingassed nebular gases. The model considers iron hydrogenation reactions during Earth's core formation as a mechanism for both sequestering hydrogen in the core and simultaneously fractionating hydrogen isotopes. By parameterizing the isotopic fractionation factor and initial bulk D/H ratio of Earth's chondritic material, we explore the combined effects of elemental dissolution and isotopic fractionation of hydrogen in iron. By fitting to the two key constraints (three oceans' worth of water in Earth's mantle and on its surface; and D/H in the bulk silicate Earth close to 150 × 10−6), the model searches for best solutions among ~10,000 different combinations of chondritic and nebular contributions. We find that ingassing of a small amount, typically >0–0.5 oceans of nebular hydrogen, is generally demanded, supplementing seven to eight oceans from chondritic contributions. About 60% of the total hydrogen enters the core, and attendant isotopic fractionation plausibly lowers the core's D/H to ~130 × 10−6. Crystallized magma ocean material may have D/H ≈ 110 × 10−6. These modeling results readily explain the low D/H in core-mantle boundary material and account for Earth's inventory of solar neon and helium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2691-2712
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • D/H ratio
  • Earth's water
  • hydrogen isotope fractionation
  • magma ocean
  • nebular ingassing
  • planetary embryo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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